#Calais, ethics and hope over fear and hate…

Bring in the sniffer dogs and army, fund more fences, use degrading language (e.g. swamped) are all things either being suggested or being done to ‘deal’ with the so-called Calais ‘migrant crisis’ whilst people who are escaping situations of absolute destitution are left to fend for themselves. There is no care or concern for understanding why people make such a dangerous journey to the UK (western intervention in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq etc. leading to social, economic and political chaos with people wanting to flea persecution for a better life but also be in a country, the UK, where they can speak the language – unlike in France). Rather, we are more bothered about how much it’s going to cost to stop vulnerable people from coming in – like they are a dangerous virus or something – and how we are going to ensure that people can still go on their holidays too. Priorities hey.CDHvLTjWIAI4Tvo

It ties into the increasing divide and rule culture we are breeding in this country. We see the usual suspects such as Farage being taken out for a spin by the media to reinforce the racist narrative. It’s a bit like asking Hitler to talk about Jewish people, it’s not going to be anything but hateful and irrational. I think it’s quite ironic also that we promote ourselves as a ‘free, democratic country’, you know the ‘end of history’, capitalism beat communism, woohoo type of rhetoric. But if you look at what happened in Berlin during the Cold War, when people were leaving the East to go West in order to access things they couldn’t under the communist regime and also see their friends and family, you know for a better basic life much like the people trying to get to Britain, they built a wall. A wall the West condemned. What are we doing in Calais? We are funding more physical barriers and security to build a wall to stop vulnerable people accessing our services and support. What’s the difference? Why are we suddenly against people accessing a better life? They are different times and contexts but the principle is very much the same. There is nothing democratic, free and fantastic about that. Why do we not want people to come to our country? Why do we hate ourselves so much we’d rather build a wall and get sniffer dogs to attack people desperately trying to have a better life?

No, before you say it, it has nothing to do with us having ‘no money left’. We have heaps of money left, just look at how the rich have got richer since the 2008 financial crisis. This government is relying on an explosion of personal borrowing and debt, through mortgages (you know, Help to Buy), credit cards and loans whilst claiming that they are tackling the debt crisis. What they mean is they are cutting the state, this is purely for ideological reasons too as private debt – which includes personal debt that is rocketing and needed for the Osborne so-called ‘recovery’ to work – is around 450% of GDP whereas public sector, state spending, debt is only around 80% (it was over 250% after the Second World War and we built the welfare state and the NHS!!). In terms of welfare, migrants put well more in than they get out and we have more unclaimed benefits than we have fraud. It’s all ideology, whilst the rich get away with reduced corporation tax, income tax and lax consideration of tax evasion and avoidance as HMRC is cut in terms of staff and resources to be able to track this down.

For me it relates back to a very simple but important concept of ethics by Judith Butler. For her, ethics is about considering everybody’s vulnerability to things they can’t control – and let’s face it that’s a lot of things in life. When someone’s or a group’s vulnerability is discarded, say for instance people trying to cross into the UK to access better social, economic and political support, they are treated as having unliveable lives. People’s whose vulnerability is respected, of which the list is rapidly decreasing, are seen as having liveable lives. This is where Jeremy Corbyn’s quote on welfare resonates a lot with me.

All of us are an accident away from needing a benefits system that sustains us – Corbyn.

Corbyn’s simple quote makes a very important point. The very reason a welfare system exists is to ensure collective help for people that need it say if they experience a tragic accident or if they develop a mental health condition etc. People that have little control over what has happened to them, say they have been forced into redundancy, need that support available. And we are all vulnerable to these forces in life. There are plenty of stories of people that we’d considered to have ‘made it’ then went on to lose all their money to an addiction or just through bad luck, for instance. Yes, there are people – people like those stuffing the current cabinet – who are less likely than others to be vulnerable to such changes but we are all vulnerable to some extent.

What we have seen is this respect for vulnerability, the care for the fact that we help each other out in hard times, is quickly being replaced by a selfish, individual ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude. This is something that has obviously been happening since the 1980s but it’s getting worse under this current government who care for nothing more than cutting the state to a bare minimum. Whether that be through so-called devolution where a lot of resources will not be matched with new responsibilities, or whether that is through instigating additional cuts to non-protected departments up to 40% to a point where even Robert Peston says will see services we take for granted being fundamentally changed (or most likely gone) this government is making sure to cut collective support. We are being left to fight it out whilst also being encouraged to hate people that the government conveniently scapegoats for this supposed ‘needed’ set of changes. This is what happens with Calais where scapegoating, divide and rule and media sensationalism make people ignore the real causes of people fleeing for a better life. We forget what we say we actually stand for: equality and fairness. We fail to empathise with other human beings and think about what we would do in a similar situation. Rather we choose to see such people as having unliveable lives, we do not respect their vulnerability or desperate need for access to basic rights and support. We forget our responsibility, as a country, in causing this.

We have to fight back against this hate and fear and promote a sense of collectivism and hope so that everyone is considered within a fair and balanced vision of ethics.

My thoughts on the Women’s World Cup #FIFAWWC

 

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The Women’s World Cup is now over. What a tournament that was. Myself and Jay Baker tried to watch pretty much every game and thoroughly enjoyed the experience (despite the tiring days following!). The England women’s team managed to have a run that will inspire a new generation of girls and women to get involved in the sport and the way they went out, through an unlucky own goal, should also be something young girls and women should grow and learn from – mistakes happen in football and the best thing to do is not fear it, embrace it as sometimes those risks pay off but if they don’t you are human, you’re not a robot, and team morale and community spirit should be high enough to see you through it. After all, it’s just a game. But that’s the problem, at the top it’s a business now, not just a game.

This links to my own involvement with AFC Unity, an alternative women’s football club based in Sheffield. Myself and Jay set the club up in 2014 as we married our passion for the sport, especially women’s football, with our passion for social justice, feminism and community activism. Key to this vision is also the idea of taking fear and pessimism out of the game. There’s so much money involved in the sport now people involved are losing a sense of what the game is supposed to be about: having fun, enjoying the game and bringing people together. However, reflective of our culture and economic inequality, money has seen an ethos spread into the game where how many cars someone can afford is becoming more important than the unifying potential and purpose of sport.

For me, grassroots football epitomises what the game is about. People pay to play football because they love the game. Look at the women involved in the World Cup, many women involved in the competition either had jobs to go back to, jobs they had sacrificed to take part in the competition, whilst women that are professional earn considerably less than the men. This isn’t necessary a bad thing though, as the tournament lacked the cheating, melodramatic hysterics of the men’s game and you had more pride and respect for the women who you could tell were so honoured to be playing in such a prestigious competition. They weren’t being told by their clubs to forget about playing for their country because they have too many important games coming up.

It was great to see female role models in the sport being promoted as people such as Lucy Bronze captured the imagination of so many girls and women. It was uncomfortable though to hear comparisons being made to male footballers in such a way that the men wouldn’t experience. For instance, Brazil’s Marta has won more best player in the world trophies than Messi but you wouldn’t hear the latter being compared to the former, especially with the word “mini”. Thus, whilst it made the headlines the use of “mini Messi” to describe Fran Kirby I think was a disservice to the women’s sport. There’s two things here that really concern me. For one, what “mini” means here is “female” and it thus can be equated to “lesser” in the sense that because she’s a woman she couldn’t possibly be too much like Messi. Secondly, why compare her to a man? Why not to a woman such as Marta? But then, why not make Fran Kirby her own role model and icon without the use of male or female comparisons. This is where the women’s game needs improving, as girls and women need to know that they don’t need to be like male players to be considered a good footballer. They can be themselves. Too often girls and women are told to be like someone else or something else, empowering women and girls is so important – it’s central to what we do at AFC Unity – and thus comparisons to men is not helpful.

If we are going to get theoretical about it the theory of a heterosexual matrix is useful as it relates to the idea that sexuality, gender and sex are all ‘naturally’ related. So for instance, women (sex) are feminine (gender) and are straight (sexuality) – when this is broken, so women playing football (wrongly considered masculine) then this breaks this so-called ‘natural’ connection. In fact such a connection is key to so many problems and divisions in society and it is totally socially constructed, it does not exist as a fact. In football you can face such divisions from other women yourself. For instance, last season I experienced a couple of digs about my make-up – one player told me to get rid of it in response to me asking them why they were attacking their own team mate, as I didn’t understand why you would want to tear strips from your own team mates (feminism after all). This can be seen as an example of me going against the expectations that women that play football need to be masculine as it’s a ‘male sport’ when really, as many women during the tournament have shown – wearing make-up, false nails, nail varnish, having awesome hair cuts – women can play football and have whatever style they feel comfortable with. The idea there is a certain style or look women that take part in football need to have is a social construction and relates to the dominance of male culture in the sport.

There has still been discrimination and stereotypical views from men through mediums such as Twitter during the World Cup but I have seen a noticeable switch to this being less prominent. I grew up facing abuse for playing football, including being called a “man beast” for simply wanting to kick a ball around. Many women in our team will have stories to tell you about their own experiences growing up facing such expectations. I do think with national campaigns such as This Girl Can and We Can Play the FA and country is starting to encourage more women to get involved in the sport. But I do think we have to learn from the male game and how money, fear and individualism has affected a game that is based on community spirit, solidarity and unity. The World Cup with its largely fair play, respectful and passion based football shows you how different women’s football is and how it’s been nurtured in opposition to the restrictive culture of the men’s game. However, with many women’s teams being simply add ons to male dominated clubs there is a long way to go until we break down barriers and assumptions within the game itself and make it a non fear based and freeing, fun experience for all involved.

Are you a woman over 16 years old based in Sheffield or near it and want to get involved in football? AFC Unity have something for women of all backgrounds, levels and experiences so please get in touch for more!

Who I’m voting for: people like me helped let the Tories in after the 2010 General Election

5 years ago, I was a vocal Liberal Democrat supporter and member and even managed to convince people around me generally apathetic and uninterested in politics to vote for the LibDems in the General Election of 2010. 5 years on and I carry the burden of knowing that my vote helped contribute to the misery and pain this government has inflicted upon ordinary people, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, with the Liberal Democrats help. This election my principles are important but not as important as the pragmatic reality that without electing the Labour Party on May the 7th 2015 we face a reinforcement and acceptance of a political and economic programme that is undermining all the progressive battles and victories our country should be proud of, especially when it comes to the National Health Service and the Welfare State. People are literally dying and at such times we have to do what we can, here and now, to make things better in the system we have. Under this electoral system the only real choice we face this May is whether we want to reelect the Tories or elect Labour and choose an alternative vision and path.

This is why I will be voting Labour on May the 7th.

I got involved in party politics when I was at College, joining the Liberal Democrats after seeing their progressive looking leaflet that came through our door promising the abolition of things such as tuition fees and trident. It appealed to the inner liberal of me. My first proper PMQs was Tony Blair’s resignation, the Labour government looked tired and the Liberal Democrats seemed fresh and interesting. The Tories didn’t appeal to me, their Social Darwin, small state moralist approach turned me off – I credit my College sociology course and tutor for making me think about the root causes and critically considering the social, political and economic reasons for the problems we face as a society. Sociology should be on the national curriculum.

My support for the Liberal Democrats carried on at University, I got involved in some of the student politics and was even the Secretary of the Leeds University Liberal Democrats society. I campaigned outside the University with a cardboard cut out of Nick Clegg repeating the line “I agree with Nick” trying to persuade students to vote for charismatic Clegg. Despite the euphoria associated with the Liberal Democrat campaign for the 2010 General Election I could sense from the party leadership stance they were more willing to join with the Tories than Labour if it came to the crunch. I was concerned with this given how anti-Tory I was and how anti our policies they seemed to be.

On the 5th of January 2010, I was quoted in an Independent article, “Clegg faces party backlash over Tory alliance”, stating this fear:

UntitledOn the 12th of May 2010, I was quoted in a Guardian article, “Liberal Democrat grassroots sounds unease over Conservative coalition”, commenting on the concerning developments regarding a coalition forming between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats:

Untitled1The Liberal Democrats did indeed join forces with the Tories. With the Liberal Democrats now trailing in the polls often with single figures facing MP loses across the country the party has an uncertain future. I dealt with quite a lot of abuse from members and supporters of the Liberal Democrats when leaving the party but have never doubted my decision or justification for doing so – the experience made me a lot tougher when it comes to political debate too. Every day this coalition government has existed and every day the Liberal Democrats have come out with more Tory defined excuses for the harm and destruction they have caused I realise how right my decision of leaving was and how wrong my vote for them was.

When the Liberal Democrats finally sealed the deal with the Tory party I felt cheated and ashamed that I had supported a party that went and supported everything I thought I was voting against. I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article, “U.K. Suggests Electoral Changes”, on July the 6th 2010 and in The Guardian on the 15th of May 2010, “Disillusioned Liberal Democrats desert their party”, about me joining the Green Party after the Liberal Democrats did a deal with the devil:
Untitled2Untitled5I was even cited in a book, Total Politics Guide to Political Blogging in the UK 2011/12, given my decision to leave the Liberal Democrats:

Untitled7I guess I needed a sense of purification after the shame I felt for voting in the Liberal Democrats. It was too soon for me to join the Labour party given that they were in the midst of a Leader election battle that would decide what direction the party would take. The university bubble I lived in also contributed towards my decision to be in the Greens. I lived in a world where I wasn’t directly affected by a lot of the decisions that were to be implemented quite quickly after the Tories got into power. I also had less of an understanding than I do now regarding the way the media affects political life. Whilst it’s important not to lose this sense of fighting for a better world and the belief that things can change, I realised it was important to also be pragmatic and try and do something to create small but effective change rather than nothing and no change.

Whilst at University I was also concerned that student protests were quite single issue and many within it failed to make connections to other issues. The anti-tuition fee demonstrations were valuable, admirable and powerful but I was struck by how college students joining these marches protesting against the removal of Educational Maintenance Allowance were in my experience shut out and quickly left what often turned out to be protests demanding unrealistic things and also how the very people that were leading the student demonstrations and defending violence that broke out also were sometimes the very people that were first to attack those taking part in the London riots. The key difference must have been class. It was okay for middle class students to smash a few things but working class people that had nothing to lose, smashing up and burning private property, were deemed wrong and irresponsible – how stupid were they smashing up their own communities people argued. I was one of the few at the time trying to argue for some context (here, here and here).

It was this bubble that began to burst whilst I was writing my BA Sociology University dissertation when I started to understand more about the merits of working and campaigning inside and outside party politics and how context is everything. However, it was my eventual involvement as a Director (from 2010 onwards) and employment (2012 onwards) with SilenceBreaker Media that really changed my view of things. Our work in disadvantaged areas such as Edlington, Doncaster and Thurnscoe in South Yorkshire that were left to ruin by the Tory Thatcher government made me realise how the difference between Labour and the Tories works out as a huge one for ordinary people. One party formed out of ordinary people and has to answer to ordinary people given that they are funded primarily by trade unions – made up by ordinary people – unlike the Tories that have 50% of their funding from the City of London. I did become slightly disillusioned even whilst doing my Masters in Politics with how aloof some of the theoretical arguments were and how exclusive such knowledge and theory was. I did contemplate quitting but I am glad I stuck it out as one of my aims for the future is to try and make key theoretical arguments more accessible for more people rather than just for academics sitting at conferences that cost a few hundred pounds to attend and creating their own exclusive language.

Through working in the community I started to meet more and more people that were directly impacted by the Tory government’s policies, people that were left behind and also people that were falling for mainstream narratives such as there being no money left. I also started to see the impact upon the sector itself and how funding started to become more voucher, market based and the threat leaving Europe has for the social and community sector – this was something I covered in my Masters Dissertation. It’s things such as the repeal of the bedroom tax, attacking the control of private landlords, tackling energy companies and threatening to break up Rupert Murdoch’s media that increasing attracted me to the Labour Party. They sound different to the New Labour era and Ed Miliband talks about taking on vested interests and power. In hindsight, whilst New Labour have a shocking record on tackling private interests and civil liberties, they did have a good social and economic record in terms of focusing on helping disadvantaged communities, groups and areas. They have a good heart and a social conscience, something that is totally lacking from the Tories. It was all this that then saw me join the Labour Party in 2012. Yes, I was asked when I was going to join the Monster Raving Loony Party given the number of parties I’ve been a member of in a relatively short period of time – according to The Sun I’m already in it! You must be doing something right when you’re annoying Rupert Murdoch and he warns that Labour threaten his existence.

Under this Conservative government we have seen food banks rocket, inequality soar with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the NHS is reaching 1990 levels of destruction, the welfare state is being cut back to a point where people are literally dying as they are denied just needed help and they are furthering an ideology with their mainstream media right wing pals that this damaging and depressing direction is the only way. Labour challenge this narrative and Ed Miliband shows in interviews like the one he did with Russell Brand that he is not afraid of taking on powerful interests – so effective that Russell Brand himself is now voting for Labour. There’s no wonder the mouthpiece of the City of London, Financial Times, decides to not back the Labour Party because of their ‘fascination’ with inequality:

UntitledThe Green Party and other more outspoken left wing parties are telling people, much in the same fashion as the Liberal Democrats did in 2010, that you shouldn’t be afraid to vote for your beliefs and that a vote for Labour is pretty much the same as a vote for the Tory party. There is even more to lose in this election compared to 2010. The Tories are wanting to finish the destruction they have started, we can’t given them legitimacy for this. If the Greens genuinely believe there is no difference then I think they need to study the electoral platforms of the two parties a bit more – Labour would repeal the bedroom tax, repeal NHS privatisation, they would cut by only £1bn over 5 years whereas the Tories would cut by £30bn alongside the Tories finding over £10bn welfare cuts whilst protecting pensions that make up nearly half of benefit spending, “more than the £48.2bn the UK spends on servicing its debt”, the Liberal Democrats would cut by £12bn and the SNP would cut even more than Labour, despite anti-austerity rhetoric, at £6bn. Thus, in terms of the mainstream parties Labour are the anti-austerity vote. Unlike the Tories, the surplus they want to achieve also is not an overall surplus meaning that they want to invest and borrow whereas the Tories have ring-fenced this too so it’s part of the surplus target. The difference between the SNP and Labour is largely rhetorical, and the fact Labour are trying to win seats in England against a right wing media that has helped the Conservatives capture the simple narrative that “it’s Labour’s fault that we’re in this mess” has to be taken into account. The SNP have the backing of Murdoch’s Scottish Sun sister paper who has calculatedly backed the SNP to try and make sure the Labour party aren’t elected.

And no, for the record, it wasn’t Labour’s fault that the international financial system crashed in 2008. It was a subprime mortgage crisis that originated in the US because of the selling of too many mortgages to people that couldn’t afford or guarantee them but through financial products such as collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, syndicate collateralized debt obligations and special purpose vehicles, risk that the banks thought they had put off their balance sheet came back to bite them – financial institutions across the world had no idea what their debt actually contained given the process of securitization that was supposed to spread risk around the international financial system but rather created the slow down of money circulation because of this lack of knowledge of where the toxic debt had ended up. But how complicated does that sound? How easy is that to explain to people on the doorstep without it sounding like an excuse when the media narrative doesn’t look at this reality?

This is what Labour has to contend with and whilst this Tory government has borrowed more than the New Labour government did across its three terms, we are told that Labour ‘maxed’ the credit card. What Labour did was invest in public services that were crumbling to pieces. There is now a warning that the NHS is returning to these 1990s levels that Labour had to rescue in 1997. This is after average spending on the NHS annually has been the lowest since the 1950s under this government with many feeling such a budget freeze has effectively been a cut given health inflation.

In terms of theory applying to context and being more accesible, Antonio Gramsci’s hegemony argument couldn’t be more relevant as through mechanisms such as the media we are told over and over again that things such as “we have to cut the debt” – despite this not being backed up by facts, for instance after the Second World War when we built the NHS and welfare state the debt was near 250% of GDP whereas now it’s only around 80%! – are universal interests with people consenting to the economic and political policies that are being implemented in the name of national interest. It isn’t a national interest though, it’s something that has been constructed and constantly reconstructed to further the status quo. The power of such ideas is only heightened by people not wanting to take part in the voting process, falling for the idea that their vote doesn’t change anything when it does. In this context, for now, alongside the broken electoral system any chance of voting in a substantial number of Green MPs is considerably low. The Liberal Democrats faced this problem at the last election as whilst their popularity increased they actually saw their number of MPs go down despite a slight increase in their vote share. It’s in this context, with Labour moving towards a more progressive platform, we have to get behind the Labour party and make sure that the Tories don’t get back in. They are the only serious alternative to a Tory government.

Whilst I will be voting Labour, also I’d recommend being smart and if in your area it’s a race between the Tories and someone else and Labour have no chance of winning choose the anti-Tory vote. Obviously, I don’t include Ukip in this – despite pretence, their racist, homophobic and sexist bile is worse than the Tories. You can use the “Tactical Voting Guide” section to this Telegraph article to help with who to vote for in your area to help stop the Tories by simply just entering your postcode. My postcode result backs my support for Labour:

Untitled8So there you go. Please use your vote and help get the nasty party out. They only have their own interests and those of their rich donors at heart. Be pragmatic, realistic and hopeful. The idea of another 5 years of this seriously makes my stomach turn. We really can’t take the result of this one for granted – it’s an election that will really define the narrative and direction of this country for a long time to come.

For more information on what this Conservative government has done over the last 5 years check out the documentary Return to Doncatraz by Jay Baker – I produced, researched and co-wrote this film and also produced the companion book that has a host of facts and analysis that need to be shared as widely as possible to counter dominant myths. The film can be watched here and the book can be purchased here for only £1.00 with all proceeds going back into SilenceBreaker Media, the not-for-profit social enterprise to help with the production of alternative media and distribution of reconditioned low cost computers breaking down digital divides.

My complaint regarding the misleading South Yorkshire PCC postal vote instructions…

When trying to complete my ballot for the upcoming South Yorkshire PCC election on the 30th of October, I had a moment of panic thinking that I HAD to have a second choice. Given my options for this second choice were UKIP, Tories and the English Democrats the idea of putting an X next to any of those hate driven parties was a pretty sickly feeling. After digging around and eventually finding a couple of blogs written about it I realised that I didn’t actually have to have a second choice.

Ballot boxI really shouldn’t have to research online and find out from bloggers whether or not I need to vote for two parties in a PCC election. This shows how badly designed the postal vote is. I consider myself to be one of those people who would be described as being very politically active and it stumped me; I know of others I would describe this way and they were also confused by it and so I imagine it is something that has thrown quite a few people off and potentially distorted the voting so far.

Therefore, I decided to send a complaint through the Sheffield City Council and help raise awareness of this. This doesn’t mean I am blaming the council, it means I think they are the best people to help bring it to more people’s attention and hopefully stop it from happening again and even make more people aware of it before they send their postal vote in or vote on the 30th. I’ve included a copy of the complaint below:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to express concern regarding the wording used on the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner postal ballot paper and the accompanying instructions. The instructions given and also the wording on the actual ballot paper made it look like you had to have a second choice and that also this second choice had to be different to your first.

After researching this online, I found it not to be the case but I know of people who are heavily involved in politics that did think the wording used in the postal ballot meant that they had to vote for two different candidates and thus did so despite not wanting to.

I recommend in future it says clearly on the ballot paper that you have the option of two choices but that you do not need to have two choices. Currently, such wording makes it look like you have to pick two, and frankly given that my other choices were the Conservatives, English Democrats and UKIP the idea of ever voting for any of those turns my stomach.

I hope you make the necessary changes to the postal ballot wording in time for future elections. I imagine the wording is on the ballot for those voting in polling stations on the 30th of October too, so if there is any way to make it clear to voters on this day across polling stations that they do not have to vote twice that would be really useful.

Kind Regards,

Jane Watkinson

Update – 24th of October:

The response to my PCC ballot complaint is very interesting – looks like once again it’s a central government made problem:

“I have contacted our Electoral Services and they have informed me that the wording used and that used on instructions in the polling stations is stipulated by the Police & Crime Commissioner Election Order 2012 and so we have no power to use different wording.”

The act is here (page 86-88 is relevant for instance, providing copies of the ballots): http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/1917/pdfs/uksi_20121917_en.pdf

Update – 27th of October

I was on BBC Radio Sheffield this morning talking about the problems with the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner ballot instructions for the election this Thursday. If you fancy a listen, it starts at around 36 minutes and 45 seconds in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p028lmfh

The reinvention of the past; what the Tories and the media don’t tell you…

“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past” – Orwell, 1984.

Something of a political master-class has happened under this government, with the seeds clearly routed in the ideological switch of the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher and her New Right, social Darwinism, small state conceptions and ethos. With an ever increasingly individualised society, where people are encouraged to be more focused on their own and their significant others’ happiness and well-being rather than the collective good, there has been an ongoing reduction of critical discussion regarding what happened in the 1980s by mainstream channels, how this affects society, people and the economy now and how these policies and ideological directions are not inevitable as it is so often claimed. 1984

Related to the changing direction of the 1980s was the concept of globalisation and the idea that ‘inevitable’ market forces were driving us to be ‘efficient’ when really this was an ideological choice and direction and something that people in power have control over. Rather, the term globalisation is used as a way to avoid critically looking at these varying processes and policy directions.

As the above Orwell quote denotes, those in power – so the establishment, which critically includes the mainstream media – influence the narrative of the present, future and the conception of the past. For instance, in a time where we are told that there is no alternative, that cuts and austerity is the only way and that “we are all in this together”, the following is conveniently forgotten about or misrepresented:

  1. After the Second World War, debt was nearly 250% of GDP – currently it stands under 70%, and rather than cutting and making the ordinary person suffer, there was a sense of community, responsibility and compassion and the welfare state was created. However, now we are told “there is no money left” and that they have to cut a supposedly ‘ballooning’ benefits budget when in reality we have lots of money – the government is not like a household that has limits to its money production, despite what Thatcher would have had you believe -, they have the capacity to print money when they need to, as they have done through quantitative easing. But dwelling on this would undermine the narrative.
  2. The cause of the crisis is ignored. The crisis has been developing for years, it links back even to the US dollar becoming the reserve currency at the Bretton Woods Conference in the 1940s. The Triffin Dilemma saw the US remove the linkage of the Dollar with Gold and this helped move towards the free market, volatile currencies you see now. It helped with a movement towards financialisation, where dangerous supposed ‘innovative’ financial practices came into play. This alongside the neoliberal ideology of the 80s onwards helped create excessive risk taking and dangerous practices where high risk was seen as a price worth paying. Through measures such as Collatarised Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps, the US and also countries such as the UK started to see a rise in bad debt with the system unable to tell if bonds were backed up by mainly good assets or not. Mortgages were sold to too many people that couldn’t afford it, and in an effort to keep expanding the financial system these dodgy bonds and assets have found their way around the financial system internationally. Despite the financial sector, bankers and other financial dealers such as hedge funders creating the crisis, these guys have been rewarded and instead the ordinary person is being affected.

Thus such ignorance to detail enables the media and the current government to pedal lies about who was to blame for the crisis – so here comes your redirection towards benefit claimants, immigrants, single parents and so forth – with the real causes of the crisis ignored. The government blames, for instance, Labour’s so-called ‘unsustainable’ spending ignoring how the Tories matched Labour’s spending plans up until 2008, when the crisis hit. They either then recognise the £1.5 trillion bank bailout or they support the entire banking sector collapsing.

The government is supposed to have “saved us”, we are supposed to be grateful that they have came to our rescue and made sure that we don’t have to live through Labour’s ‘reckless’ spending again. This ignores the reality that, as mentioned above, public spending is low historically – private debt is around 400% of GDP – and that Labour did some real good stuff that this government has been undoing for the last 4 years. In fact, this government is undoing the legacy of the post War era where the welfare state was created – doing this through deception to further their ideology.

There is no wonder that the SNP and many people in Scotland want out of the UK; with only 1 Scottish MP but a Tory led government dictating to them with the above narrative, based on lies and a nasty ideology, it’s a no-brainer. If I was in Scotland I’d want out. However, if Scotland were to break away, from a selfish point of view, ordinary people in the rest of the UK will suffer because of the strong progressive vote and MPs Scotland returns at elections helping neutralise the Tory vote – or people just not voting as apathy is a key vote winner for the Tories.

But then, if they were to say yes people on the left might start working together a bit more as they realise they need to do so to stop the Tories. They might realise that the left need to work together rather than spending so much energy attacking people that have a similar creed to them. There needs to be more realism and pragmatism and also a serious realisation that if the Tories were to get in again at the next election, then their continuing control of the past, present and future would not be pretty…

UPDATE (19th of September 2014):

After thinking about the ‪#‎indyref‬ more, despite hoping Scotland would go independent for itself and its future as a fair and equal country, I need to redact my “I hope Scotland stay in the UK from a selfish point of view” statement. Even when being selfish, it would have made lots more sense for Scotland to go independent for the Left and the UK’s future. Scotland is a very progressive, forward thinking part of the UK that doesn’t deserve to have such little influence in so many big decisions that are inflicted on it by a right wing, centralised Westminster, especially after Thatcher onwards. It would have shaken things up in the UK – statistically, the Scotland vote has only influenced 4 elections since WW2; but ideologically they have been part of that socialist strength we fight for and helped make the UK a better place to live and influenced debate. Scotland going independent would have really threatened the establishment and we wouldn’t be facing the potential of empty promises of more power with u-turns looking like they are going to happen – alongside a nationalistic English sentiment happening; as we might have actually started to question why Scotland wanted to leave and look at the real sources of inequality and unhappiness – namely neoliberalism and undemocratic practices.

The rise of self-employment and the so-called economic recovery…

More and more the government is trying to get the narrative to switch so that people think that they have got the economy working again. One of the things they are using to claim this is pointing to the increased number of people in employment. But, statistics are social constructs and it’s important to de-construct this statistic and understand the reasons behind it. 

When doing this, one of the key things that you’ll notice is the rise in self-employment. There are notable people and articles referencing how many have moved to self-employment through desperation as finding other forms of employment in more ‘traditional’ areas is becoming increasingly hard. Alongside this, is a depressingly marked decrease in self-employment income – with obvious signs of an un-sustainable ‘recovery’ of the job market, despite what the government claims.

I am self-employed through choice, working for two Sheffield based social enterprises whilst trying to do the odd freelance thing aside from this here and there. I love it and wouldn’t want to do anything else. However, for my MA dissertation I looked at a changing definition of social enterprise, linking – I feel – to the rise in self-employment. This changing definition reflects a movement towards a free market, more profit motive seeking US definition and away from the more restrictive, community based/owned non-profit focus that had previously dominated.

My research analysed the connections between the rise of neoliberalism and the development and options for the social enterprise sector in Sheffield, UK and Pittsburgh, PA, US. I found that within this changing context, social enterprises – which many self-employed people work for – when defined restrictively (in terms of profit distribution and ownership structure) was increasingly reducing, with the move from government and European grant and contract based resources to loan-Bvd_mtJIQAEDmz-based, social finance, non-statutory, voucher scheme funding relating to the intensifying neoliberal relations under this current government; with the recreation of universal interests around finance and profit with the promotion of social businesses – especially given the neoliberal legitimacy crisis. 

Self-employment has changed in this context to be one of the last options many people have for trying to get a decent standard of living rather than going onto benefits – because there aren’t any jobs, with a ever weakening real economy whilst the parasitic financial sector grows – and then told that they are ‘scum’ for doing so every day by the national media and those in power responsible for creating such a job and living crisis. We have seen self-employment and the concept of the third sector abused with the idea of a ‘big society’ being a nice way of covering up a neoliberal, nasty ideological agenda that is about making people do good stuff for free, and the stuff that pays – even if it nearly crashes the economy – reinforcing this unequal system.

I’ll be writing more about this in my upcoming book, The Capitalist Production of ‘Ideals’, that I hope to be releasing some time next year.

The ongoing power and hegemony of the US…

US hegemonic power is increasingly debated in terms of whether it is still strong or whether it is in a state of decline with the rise of developing countries, the underlying weakness of the dollar and the crumbling legitimacy the US faces as a country on the global stage. However, what recent events such as the international paralysis and inaction towards Israel’s ongoing siege and despairing occupation of Gaza and the West Bank shows is that the US’s power is still strong. index

I studied US hegemony in one of my Politics MA modules at The University of Sheffield finding myself arguing that whilst the US can be still considered a global hegemonic power, it is minimal hegemony based on non-ethical deception relating to the increasing legitimacy crisis of neoliberal policies, especially since the ongoing financial crisis and the rise of developing countries – and related global imbalances – such as China.

In other words, US’s power is based on lies and misconceptions promoted through channels such as the bias media that furthers the neoliberal agenda through institutions such as the IMF or now through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership where US power is still very strong. The ideology of the ‘need’ and ‘naturalness’ of the free market – despite this in reality not really happening, with vast amounts of corporate aid sustaining such ‘free’ markets – is rampant throughout these global institutions as the US as a state still has a lot of international control through such institutions with voting power and veto rights.

Whilst there are challenges to the US dollar in the long-term, there’s not too much cause for concern for now. For instance, China has a weak financial sector and also dollar depreciation would threaten China economically too given their vast amount of US bond holding and China’s use of sovereign wealth funds to increase their power but also vulnerability in the US. There is also the recent development of fracking in the US that will help reduce their dependence on using foreign policy to ensure their economic power, given that petrodollars finance an estimate of 45% of the US’s current account deficit.

Since the Nixon Shock in 1973 the financial markets have grown increasingly powerful, the US has become more and more reliant on finance as a symbol of ‘power’ and ‘success’, as has the UK, and the world has become an increasingly unfair place with US sponsored structural adjustment programmes making sure of this. With such hegemony becomes no responsibility. There is no responsibility from those at the ‘top’ that through ‘innovative’ measures such as Collateralized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps created a financial crisis that has been sadly but cleverly blamed on minority groups and ordinary people that had nothing to do with it. The divide and rule tactics have worked on many, and we now are in a system with unsustainable, unequal power divisions with a mass media that deceives and manipulates, and powerful countries that don’t use their power responsibly.

Rather, we see as through the TTIP such countries – despite such hegemony and power – surrendering their soft and hard power to corporates and profit making entities because they ‘need’ to as otherwise we are told that there will be a ‘brain drain’, the economy will stop working. We have to give up accountability, fairness and common sense because this is a ‘natural’ part of ‘globalisation’. Globalisation in this sense being a nice ideological tool to take attention away from the fact that it is a term used to refer to a magnitude of factors that aren’t inevitable, but rather ideological and policy led choices. That is conveniently ignored though when frightening measures such as TTIP are discussed.

Minimal hegemony sees a selfish country having the most international, especially ideological and institutional, power and influence with limited oppositional forces to it. The more the lies are exposed, the more people will hopefully start to realise that what is happening is unfair, unequal and not inevitable and this leads to cracks in this hegemony with the potential of a counter hegemonic bloc there. What this counter hegemonic bloc is, is up to us.